Friday July 20, 2018

CA overturns Ombudsman order to dismiss Oro mayor

THE Court of Appeals' (CA) Special Twenty-Second Division has thrown out the ruling of the Office of the Ombudsman dismissing Mayor Oscar Moreno and Glenn Banez, officer-in-charge of the City Treasurer’s Office.

Penned by CA Associate Justice Edgardo Camello and promulgated on October 13, the CA reversed the Ombudsman’s August 14, 2015 decision and February 15, 2016 order.

The CA also dismissed for lack of merit the administrative charges of grave misconduct against Moreno and Banez.

A copy of the 26-page CA decision on the Ombudsman’s ruling dismissing the two officials for actions in relation to a settlement agreement with Ajinomoto in 2014 was received by Moreno’s camp Monday afternoon, October 17.

READ: 3 Mindanao mayors dismissed from service over admin offenses

In ruling in Moreno and Banez’s favor, the CA said there is "no substantial evidence that Mayor Moreno had participated in the execution of the settlement agreement."

The CA ruled further that "there is no substantial evidence of a misconduct, much less a grave one meriting a brusque dismissal of the city mayor and the treasurer from service."

Also, the CA said the settlement between Ajinomoto and the City Government is "not one of those that create new obligation binding the City Government that needs approval by the Sanggunian (Council)."

“Since no law has been violated, no grave misconduct was ever committed,” the CA decision said.

As defined by the CA, the misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law or to disregard established rules, which must be proved by substantial evidence.

The CA said there are no evidence on record showing that Moreno and Bañez unduly benefited, directly, or indirectly, or personally or otherwise, from the agreement.

"There is no substantial evidence of prejudice or damage done to the city government when the local treasurer settled the case for P300,000 instead of pursuing his initial tax assessment of P2,924,428.34," it said.

The CA also emphasized that the city mayor's direct supervision over the treasurer is neither enough basis to warrant his implication in the transaction, citing Executive Order No. 292 or the Administrative Code of 1987 which requires that in order to hold the superior civilly liable for acts of his subordinates done in the performance of their duties, there must be a clear showing of bad faith, malice or gross negligence.

The CA also noted that the Office of the Ombudsman failed to afford Moreno "his fundamental right to due process."

Moreno had manifested that he found it surprising why only Bañez's counter-affidavit was received by the Ombudsman's main office when they both filed their affidavits in the same Cagayan de Oro branch office, at the same time, and on the same day.

“While the Ombudsman may have arguably given Mayor Moreno an opportunity--by means of a subsequent position paper--to present his arguments and evidence tending to establish the rights he asserts, it clearly did not consider the evidence he presented,” the CA decision said.

Moreno and Banez had earlier sought relief from the CA following an August 2015 Ombudsman decision dismissing the two officials from service and perpetually barring them from holding public office.

The Ombudsman’s decision stemmed from a complaint was filed by former Taglimao village chief William Guialani which questioned the court settlement which allowed Ajinomoto to pay only an amount of P300,000 to the City Government instead of the original local business tax deficiency of P2.9 million.

The two officials subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration at the Office of the Ombudsman, aside from questioning the Ombudsman’s decision at the CA.

The Ombudsman denied the motion for reconsideration in February this year.

On October 5, 2015, the Ombudsman found probable cause to charge Moreno and Banez before the Sandiganbayan for unlawfully entering into an agreement with Ajinomoto.

The two officials are set to face trial before the anti-graft court for supposed violations of Sections 3(e) and 3(g) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.